When just four of the nine Rally1 cars make it to the end, you know it was a hectic round of the World Rally Championship.
Rally Italy Sardinia 2023 delivered in spades, with plenty of drama largely because of the wet weather.
On a weekend as intense as this, it’s no surprise that there are a few losers, but there were also plenty of winners too.
DirtFish writers Rob Hansford and Luke Barry have been through the field and delivered their verdict:
This ended up being the perfect rally for Thierry Neuville, as he clinched his first WRC victory of the year.
Obviously you can argue that the win came about primarily because of others around him retiring on Saturday, but to look at that element in isolation wouldn’t be totally fair to Neuville.
Regardless of his rivals’ issues, he was on it. He won five of the eight stages on Saturday to put himself firmly in the frame, and once he had the lead he drove in a measured manner to ensure he never lost it.
This was a drive that put him firmly back into the championship battle. His season starts here, and now it needs to continue.
Before the rally got underway, Kalle Rovanperä was already trying to manage expectations.
We heard lines stating that it’s a rally he doesn’t like and that he expected his road position to make it impossible to get a decent result. And yet, he ends up walking away from the weekend having extended his lead in the championship.
Clearly, third place would not have come Rovanperä’s way without his team-mate Sébastien Ogier and title rival Ott Tänak retiring on Saturday, and it wasn’t exactly Rovanperä’s best ever drive.
But it doesn’t matter. The end result is what counts, and he couldn’t have wished for much better before the weekend began.
In some ways, he’s the biggest winner of all.
He may have been disappointed not to win the rally, but three podiums on the bounce is a new personal record for Esapekka Lappi, who’s becoming a force to be reckoned with on all loose surface rounds of the championship.
There were echoes of Rally México as Lappi fought old team-mate Sébastien Ogier tooth and nail for the win, and almost came out on top. But when Ogier went off, Lappi knew what he needed to do and he checked his pace to allow team leader Thierry Neuville to win.
Who knows what would have happened if Lappi and Neuville were able to fight for victory? But this was yet another performance that raises questions over Hyundai’s rapid decision to put all of its weight behind Neuville this season.
Andreas Mikkelsen had given up all hope of claiming WRC2 victory. Adrien Fourmaux was just too far ahead. Instead, he wanted to drive through Sunday, secure second and try and collect as many powerstage bonus points as he could.
Instead, he pulled up to the stage-end reporter on the final stage to discover that Fourmaux had gone off and he, in fact, had won.
Mikkelsen was magnanimous, quickly paying tribute to both Fourmaux and M-Sport who he acknowledged had him beaten over the weekend. But to finish first, first you have to finish and that’s exactly what Mikkelsen did to take his first WRC2 win in nearly a year.
It was all going so well for Adrien Fourmaux. His sublime performance on SS10 catapulted him into a dominant lead over Andreas Mikkelsen, and as the powerstage started his name was already being etched into the WRC2 victory list.
But then the powerstage happened. Arriving at a left-hand bend, the rear of his car got away from Fourmaux a bit too much, dragging him into a bank. He clipped a rock and that was it. His car was stuck on the side of the road, with the suspension ruined. His rally was over, and he lost a nailed on victory.
And this will hurt.
The victory was there. He’d driven brilliantly all weekend and the victory was right there for the taking.
And yet, one small error in admittedly very tricky conditions sent him straight from hero to zero.
We don’t often see this from Sébastien Ogier.
His performance on the first loops of both Friday and Saturday were exemplary, as you’d expect from an eight-time champion. But on Friday afternoon a safe choice of tires and setup lost him ground, while on Saturday afternoon it all slipped away from him – quite literally.
Caught out by the same water crossing that ended team-mate Takamoto Katsuta’s rally, Ogier recovered only for his foot to slide off the brake pedal on the day’s penultimate stage, leading to him going off the road.
Points lost for Toyota, and one less trophy for the cabinet. One Ogier will be keen to move on from.
Like Fourmaux, Pierre-Louis Loubet’s base performance this weekend wouldn’t have you really consider him a major loser.
He drove well on Friday’s opening stages and was lying in third by SS4.
But then at the start of SS5 gearbox gremlins hit his Puma Rally1, preventing him from being able to start the stage with his car stuck in gear.
That issue was resolved, but he got hit with a substantial penalty for not being able to start on time. And then to make matters worse, he went off the road on the final stage of the day after something on his car broke, sending him into retirement.
Loubet never returned to the rally after that, and that’s what puts him in the loser bracket. Regardless of the result, he needs to get as much seat time to build up his Rally1 experience and, although it wasn’t his fault, Sardinia was another event where that seat time has been severely reduced.
We feel a little bit guilty here as for the third round in a row, Oliver Solberg has made his way into the losers column – sorry Oliver!
But Sardinia definitely didn’t seem to be his fault, as the front-left suspension of his Škoda collapsed whilst he was in the lead.
To bring that wounded Fabia through the monstrous 30-mile stage and remain in the rally was extraordinary, but after that issue his shot at scoring any points was always going to be limited and Solberg ended up over an hour off the pace.
He bravely said before the rally that he wanted to score on the events where everyone is competing, to validate any title win. It’s a noble move, but he leaves Sardinia in a shaky position having now used his dropped score.
You need only ask Mikkelsen about how important those can turn out to be.